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The case over Tawana Brawley, a young black girl, created a media circus back in 1987 in New York City. Here is an account of the goings on.

Tawana Brawley is found covered in feces and wrapped in garbage bags outside the Pavilion Condominiums in Wappingers Fall, New York. Her appearance leads investigators to believe that she had undergone an extremely traumatic experience, parts of her hair were cut off, her pants were burned, and there was a racial slur scrawled on her body. She tells the authorities that she had been held against her will and repeatedly raped by a gang of white men, one of whom she claimed had a police badge.

The case becomes a cause celebre when a couple of controversial attorneys, C.Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox declare their support for Brawley. Never one to miss out on some free publicity, enter the Reverend Al Sharpton, who also declares his support for Brawley. All three allege that there was a police cover-up of the investigation that extended to the highest ranks of the NYPD.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how one views the case, Brawley's story did not hold up under the close scrutiny that followed. Although she claimed to have been abducted and held for four days, nobody filed a missing persons report for her during that time. Little concrete evidence is found that Brawley had been attacked and suspicion begins to increase that her story is fabricated. Several witnesses come forth stating that they saw Brawley at a party while she was supposedly missing. Fiber evidence suggests that Brawley had most likely written the racial slurs on herself.

The media in New York is now having a field day. In the face of mounting criticism of how her attorneys are handling the case, wild unfounded accusations begin to be made. Among them, her attorneys and advisors start claiming that the Assistant District Attorney - Stephen Pagones - had participated in the alleged rape and that the Special Prosecutor - Robert Abrams -was seen masturbating to the photos that were admitted as evidence.

As the media circus continues, Brawley and her family refuse to testify or cooperate with the investigation. This did not stop them from accepting financial contributions from supporters.

Aftermath

Finally, in October of 1988, a Grand Jury dismissed the entire matter. Both of her attorneys, Mason and Maddux, faced disciplinary proceeding from the New York State Bar for their conduct during the investigation. Stephen Pagones, the Assistant District Attorney - filed a libel suit against Mason, Maddox, and Sharpton for the allegations made against him during the investigation. He eventually won the libel suit in 1998.

Update: August 5, 2013

Well, it only took 26 years but Tawana Brawley has finally begun to make payments to Stephen Pagones in settlement of the judgement against her. So far, she has paid $3,800.00 but still owes him another $431,000.00. For what it's worth, Pagones said he'd drop the whole thing in return for a public apology.

So far, Brawley has declined to comment on the matter.

There's speculation that the Tawana Brawley rape hoax began as a way for Tawana and her mother to explain her absence from her physically abusive, domineering step father. Her step father had a history of domestic violence and was a convicted killer.

The Tawana Brawley case and the hype that quickly followed and quickly spiraled out of control has to be looked at in context. It took place a year after black Michael Griffith was hit and killed by a car after being chased by a white, baseball-bat-carrying mob in Howard Beach. It took place a year after black Jimmy Lee Bruce was killed by a white off duty police officer. Some of the more reactionary leaders in the black community were looking for the next atrocity to make an example of and they thought they had it in the supposed rape of Tawana Brawley.

While Tawana's chief advisors/legal counsel, the Reverend Al Sharpton, activist attorney Alton Maddox, and lawyer C. Vernon Mason lead the "attack", it's interesting to note that Bill Cosby posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the attackers and Mike Tyson got a little photo op giving Tawana a diamond-studded Rolex watch.

The problem with Tawana's case is it lacked any real evidence. Doctors who examined Tawana could find no evidence of physical abuse. No sperm was found in or on her. She suffered no bruises. They could find no trauma to her vagina, anus, and the back of her throat. All would be present during a brutal rape. As well, she claimed to have been raped in a forest but forensic examiners could find no evidence (like plant material) in her hair and clothing that she had been in a forest.

Tawana's actual whereabouts during her four day absence are a mystery. Some people gave initial statements that they had seen her at a party but they later recanted when under oath.

One witness reports shortly before Tawana was found by the police to have seen her actually hop in the garbage bag after looking around a bit to see if she was being observed.

The lack of evidence meant a) the rape/abduction never happened b) there was evidence but a massive conspiracy made it disappear. Tawana's legal counsel decided to pursue the latter theory. Since only someone at the highest level of law enforcement could make this kind of evidence vanish and since the only motivation for making that evidence vanish was because one took part in the rape, Tawana's advisors fingered Steve Pagones, the state's Assistant DA, as one of the participants in the rape.

While Tawana's lawyer, C. Vernon Mason, handled the legal stuff, Sharpton and Maddox handled the media spin when reporters asked why there was, like, no evidence, hey? Maddox responded Attorney General Robert Abrams was helping the cover up because he had masturbated over photos of Tawana. Uh huh. The Reverend Al Sharpton suggested Abrams was a Hitler-like figure in the case. (His words were to the effect that asking Tawana to testify before Abrams was like asking a Jew to talk to Hitler.) Abrams, being Jewish, was less than impressed by this comparison. And what was Governor Mario Cuomo doing about this? Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason all agreed that Cuomo was sitting pat because not only was he involved in organized crime but he was linked with the KKK and the IRA. Sharpton also speculated leaders of a white racist cult were the ultimate puppet masters of the whole sordid affair.

Black New York state assemblyman Roger L. Green, trying to be the voice of reason, suggested Sharpton had crossed the line comparing Abrams to Hitler. Sharpton called Green an Uncle Tom and tool of the white voter.

Fortunately, this never went to trial as a grand jury ruled the rape/abduction a hoax. ("There is no evidence that any sexual assault occurred.")

A decade later Tawana's story was revisited when Pagones sued the Brawley family, Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason. The Brawley family did not even bother to respond to the lawsuit and a default judgment was rendered against them. Tawana herself, while refusing to acknowledge the case, appeared at a rally in Brooklyn before the Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason trial and insisted the rape happened.

Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason's defense faced an initial, severe set back. The judge ruled the Grand Jury report was to be taken as a true statement of the facts of the case. That is, the rape never happened. This precluded the trio's lawyers from the mounting the best possible defense when it comes to libel. In other words, it's not libel if it really really happened. You might not like being called a child rapist but if you raped a child, it ain't libel if someone labels you as such. The judge's ruling also spared New York from having to undergo a repeat of the 1987 spectacle.

On July 13, 1998, a jury found Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason guilty of libel and awarded Pagones just under $350,000. The damages, not excessive by American standards, were considered fair by some. It made them accountable for their libel without looking like the system was trying to sue them out of the civil rights business. It also avoided creating a chilling effect on future civil rights protests.

Post-trial, Maddox was disbarred on an unrelated matter and Mason was temporarily suspended after he refused to participate in an ethics committee convened to review his role in the case.

One would be remiss in reporting this story without noting a high profile case involving whites perpetrating crime hoaxes and fingering blacks. One should remember the case of Susan Smith who, in 1994, claimed a young black man stole her car with her precious little children in the back seat. (Smith, of course, drowned her kids.)

"How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We're just regular people ... We should be millionaires."

— Glenda King, mother of Tawana Brawley, to her husband, during a recent interview with the New York Daily News

It was about eighteen years ago that Tawana, Glenda, her husband and younger son moved to Virginia. Their move was funded in part by approximately $300,000 donated to Ms. Brawley's defense fund. The funds were raised by politician and black activist Rev. Al Sharpton, and other supporters of Ms. Brawley. Attorney C. Vernon Mason officially represented Ms. Brawley and her family. Another of Ms. Brawley's attorneys, Alton Maddox, now disbarred because of an unrelated matter, has taken up Ms. Brawley's cause yet again, arranging for appearances, brief speeches, and also funding travel opportunities for Ms. Brawley which are unrelated to speaking about her cause.

It looks like the money's run out and it's time to have another go-around with the State of New York, at least so far as Glenda King is concerned.
 

Cover-up or Hoax?

Tawana Brawley was fifteen years old when she went missing the night of November 24, 1987. The following Saturday, she was found in the early afternoon in what was reported to be a "dazed" condition. Ms. Brawley was discovered to have feces smeared on her body and racial epithets written on her person and on her clothing. Ms. Brawley is black.

Ms. Brawley, but for a piece of paper containing the words "white cop," has not made a single statement under oath about what happened to her while she was gone. She has not given a concise, chronological list of events, her location(s) and, if any, companions during the time she was missing, nor acts on the part of perpetrators, (as traumatic as that may have been for her at the time or would be at a future time).

It goes without saying that Ms. Brawley's testimony would have been of inestimable value to our investigation. As a result, we extended two written invitations to her and ultimately voted to subpoena her. However, we have heard testimony that Ms. Brawley did not return to school in Monticello, New York at the start of the school year in September, 1988, and has enrolled in high school in another state. We concluded that the two previously extended invitations have sufficiently notified Ms. Brawley of our desire to hear from her and that this report need not be further delayed. Accordingly, we withdrew our subpoena.

— Report of the Grand Jury, Supreme Court of the State of New York for Dutchess County

Absent Ms. Brawley's testimony, I'd hazard a guess that the preponderance of circumstantial evidence discovered by the Grand Jury in this case is demonstrative that a) no one but Tawana Brawley caused her absence and b) no one but Tawana Brawley caused the presence of marks and feces on her body. No doubt frustrated by Ms. Brawley's failure to cooperate, the Grand Jury relied on evidence including, but not limited to, the following key points when crafting their decision (the complete text of the Grand Jury report is cited below):

  • She was seen at a party during the time of her supposed "disappearance." This accusation was recanted when the witness was asked to say so under oath.
     
  • She was seen by a public bus driver as well as a taxicab driver during the time of her absence.
     
  • A woman doing housecleaning in an apartment near the one next to which Brawley was found saw Ms. Brawley get into the black plastic bag in which she was found and "hop" inside the bag to a different location. This woman was also the one who notified police of Ms. Brawley's location at the apartment complex.
     
  • It just so happens that the apartment complex where Ms. Brawley was found happened to be the previous residence of Ms. Brawley, her infant brother, mother and father. Their former apartment was found unlocked by police investigators and contained samples of feces similar to the ones found on Ms. Brawley, fibers which were consistent with burnt fibers used to inscribe the racial epithets on Ms. Brawley and various and sundry other articles of clothing, hair, and fibers leading investigators to believe that Ms. Brawley was inside the apartment shortly before she was spotted outdoors by the neighbor. An electric heater had been turned over, onto the carpet, and was set on "high," causing a stench variously described as "burning rubber" and "burning electrical wires" throughout the apartment.
     
  • A thorough investigation of Ms. Brawley's presence ruled out rape or even physical mistreatment of her. Although she'd claimed that the rape had taken place in a wooded area, no leaves, twigs, bits of brush, etc. consistent with her having been pushed on the ground in a wooded area existed.
     
  • During the entire period of her absence no one placed a missing persons call to the police.
     

It is important to note that in light of the key facts listed above and Ms. Brawley's failure to even attempt to disprove them, it can be assumed that it would cast more than a shadow of doubt on Ms. Brawley's original accusation in the mind of any reasonable individual, Grand Juror or not.

The difficulty with this is that the concept of "reasonable doubt" does not come into play when a Grand Jury is deciding whether or not to indict an individual or individuals. What a Grand Jury needs to indict is factual evidence that a crime indeed has been committed, and that that evidence links the victim with the perpetrator. Of course, that did not happen here.

Once the Grand Jury dismissed the case, all that Ms. Brawley's representatives could do was cry "foul!" and come up with the even more ridiculous claim, later found libelous, that there was some sort of very complex, racially-driven cover-up perpetrated by various members of the New York State justice department.

Frankly, the entire claim and subsequent accusal of a cover-up was so exquisitely ridiculous that only the likes of Rev. Sharpton, Mr. Maddox and Mr. Mason could utter the conjured details with a straight face. They did so, and legions of ignorant people (black and white) bought into it merely because it boiled down to the "power elite" versus a fifteen-year-old girl. Beside, the time happened to be right given the climate of racial tension of the moment.


Was this the end?

In 1998, a well-dressed, happy, upbeat Tawana gave a heart-rending speech in a Baptist church. She discussed moving on with her life and chalking her experience up to racism and crooked government. Her speech came a day prior to the announcement of a civil judgment against herself, Maddox, Attorney Vernon Mason, and Rev. Sharpton. The suit was brought by Assistant State's Attorney Steven Pagones, who was accused of taking part in the "attack" on Ms. Brawley.

A judgment for the Plaintiff, Mr. Pagones, was entered against Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason. A judgment against Ms. Brawley was previously entered because she'd completely ignored the Complaint in the case, failed to respond to it, and therefore suffered a default judgment. She has yet to pay a dime of that money to Mr. Pagones.

Sadly, one individual, a Westchester County police officer with a history of emotional distress, was not there to witness the vindication of Mr. Pagones. The officer killed himself shortly after being named by one of Ms. Brawley's attorneys as another participant in her alleged rape and beating.
 

Above the Law?

New demands have been made of the Court and the Attorney General of the State of New York by the Brawley family by way of exhuming this matter so that, to paraphrase Ms. Brawley's mother, Glenda, "justice may be served." Glenda King claims that there are "sealed documents" which, if unsealed by a judge, would shed a whole new light on her daughter's case. Ms. King hopes to re-visit the State of New York to pursue re-opening the case.

There's one problem. Ms. King is considered a fugitive from justice in the State of New York because of her refusal to answer subpoenas of the Court and therefore is subject to arrest the moment she sets foot on New York soil. She and attorney Mason, in November of 2007, asked for "amnesty" from prosecution so that she may pursue her case.

Tawana Brawley's mother is a fugitive from justice; that's a crime. She's a criminal. Were she white, a hue and cry would come up that she considered herself "above the law" and to hell with her case. That is, until she's answered to the Court for the matter of her failure to appear. It's interesting that when the New York Daily News published the story of Ms. King's request for "amnesty" from her fugitive status, not a heck of a lot more was heard about it.

When the late "Queen of Mean," Leona Helmsley, made repeated efforts to delay or hinder prosecution of her tax evasion charges, the media reported a public outcry that she could avoid paying for her heinous crimes because justice could be bought. It turns out, in the case of Ms. Helmsley, it could not, and she was duly convicted and sentenced after exhausting every possible legal machination to try to keep her delicate self out of jail.
 

"I'm Baaaack!"

Could it be that Ms. King is so out of touch with reality that she truly believes that the evidence she claims was "sealed" will exonerate her daughter? This mysterious evidence is all she'll have to work with, because her daughter, as of this writing, has confirmed that she will not participate in a re-hashing of the turbulent trial of her youth. Tawana Brawley wants to get on with her life as a healthcare worker in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Howard University, Ms. Brawley has certainly turned her life around, and says that she enjoys the life she's leading now and has turned her back on the past.

Could it be that Ms. King has decided that should she whip up racial tensions in New York once again, she'll reap the rewards of a "defense fund" of one sort or another with the support of her old cronies Sharpton et. al.? Would that were the truth, should we expect a visit from Mrs. King every fifteen or twenty years or so to "go back to the well" to enrich herself yet again for being a poster-child for civil rights?

Is it merely the public's attention that Ms. King longs for? Conservative writer Michelle Malkin coined the word "brawleyism" and recently discussed several significant hoaxes which were perpetrated on college campuses merely by students (and in one case a professor of psychology) who're needy for attention. Ms. Malkin writes:

This vicious strain of Tawana Brawleyism is alive and well on college campuses. In these educational temples of the perpetually aggrieved, rationality and truth have been recklessly sacrificed at the altar of diversity.

Ms. Malkin examines the peculiar need for attention that causes otherwise bright, rational human beings to engage in ridiculous and costly hijinks in her essay "Hate Crimes 101: Tawana Brawley Goes to College" at www.vdare.com/malkin/brawleyism.htm.

The cogs of American Jurisprudence turn slowly but they do, indeed turn. To allow Glenda King a "pass" on a fugitive from justice charge so she can rabble-rouse once again in New York would be tantamount to putting a large wrench in those cogs.
 

SOURCES:

  • "Tawana Brawley's Mom Seeks Amnesty" by Dorian Block, The New York Daily News, November 19, 2007 http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/11/19/2007-11-19_tawana_brawleys_mom_seeks_amnesty.html (Accessed 12/11/07)
     
  • "Report: Family Wants Tawana Brawley Case Reopened," The Associated Press, Feed November 18, 2007 (Various sources, accessed 12/11/07) http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hFARnhr0V3Ppyb2avOmOCIzXVtawD8T0CHG00
     
  • "20 Years Later, Tawana Brawley has Turned Back on the Past," by Dorian Block, The New York Daily News, November 18, 2007 http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/11/18/2007-11-18_20_years_later_tawana_brawley_has_turned.html (Accessed 12/11/07)
     
  • "Report of the Grand Jury Concerning the Tawana Brawley Investigation" Dutchess County, NY Grand Jury impaneled on February 29, 1988 http://www.courttv.com/archive/legaldocs/newsmakers/tawana/part1.html#events (Accessed 12/11/07)
     
  • "The Tawana Brawley Lie Continues" by Doug Mataconis, "Below The Beltway" http://belowthebeltway.com/2007/11/18/the-tawana-brawley-lie-continues/ (Accessed 12/11/07)
     
  • "Hate Crimes 101: Tawana Brawley Goes to College" by Michelle Malkin, "VDare" http://www.vdare.com/malkin/brawleyism.htm (Accessed 12/11/07)

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